This interview is the combined first four parts of the Mag7Event, including the exclusive interview about SOLAR ISLAND.
Thanks for joining us, Rick! I'm excited to have you here... Wherever here is:-) Before getting into the background questions, I see that Jeremy Robinson gave you a blurb for your novel KiDNApped. How'd you get him to do that? He turned me down! Just kidding, he had a valid excuse and has been a huge help in this whole writing adventure. It's actually pretty funny because I was going to tell him about you, that I thought Wired Kingdom would be up his alley... And then I find his praise for it!
Anyway, it appears that your profession, passion, and writing material is, to a large degree, one and the same... How did you manage that hookup? Take us back to how and when it all started. How did Rick Chesler get here (and attain blurbs from Jeremy Robinson:)?
Thanks a lot for having me on your site, Shawn, I really appreciate it. My Tara Shores thriller series (Wired Kingdom (2010), kiDNApped (2011) and SOLAR ISLAND (coming 2012) all feature plots that somehow involve the ocean and science & technology. It also so happens that I have a degree in marine biology and have been an avid scuba diver for many years, so I guess the old “write what you know / love” thing does come into play somewhat…although only to a point. For example, I’ve never seen a blue whale in real life, much less dove with one, but Wired Kingdom is about a blue whale tagged with a webcam that broadcasts a murder at sea. I’ve also never sequenced DNA myself, but in kiDNApped a missing geneticist sends S.O.S. messages by encoding them into the DNA of living cells. So the premises themselves tend to be pretty outlandish, but I surround them with realistic details and a plot that wouldn’t be a stranger to the Lifetime movie network, and there ya go - technothriller magic!
When & how it all started…mostly from reading tons of thrillers, suspense, action-adventure, etc, when I wasn’t out having adventures for real. I read a lot of Michael Crichton and Clive Cussler, Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, etc. starting in high school. And one day, in my late 20s, I decided to try writing one of my own. It was a rain forest adventure thing that I finished but never did anything with. Wrote another one after that, finished again but never tried to do anything with it, I just didn’t think it held up to the same standard as the ones I read and liked. A few years past, life happened - moved for a job across the country, met my wife, etc., etc., and there were a few years where I didn’t write, but somewhere along the way I developed a new story idea in my head that just wouldn’t go away. In my late 30s I began to write an early draft of what would become Wired Kingdom. I eventually sold this book - after many, many rewrites, revisions, re-drafts, reworkings, re-re-re’s-! to a small press called Variance about 4 years later, direct without an agent.
It turns out that Jeremy Robinson (see, I’m getting to your other question, this ramble does have an end!) was a part owner of Variance, which had acquired his earlier startup Breakneck Books. I had read Jeremy’s Antarktos Rising from Breakneck, and was impressed by both the story itself as well as the production values. It was a while ago now, but I believe it was the Breakneck imprint that actually acquired Wired Kingdom. From there Jeremy was kind enough to say a few positive things about the book. Later he relinquished his stake in the company, but a couple of years after that when I released my second thriller kiDNApped with a different small house, Chalet Publishers, I asked Jeremy if he would be willing to provide a blurb and he graciously agreed.
So here I am in 2012, where I should have a few surprises in store for my readers. One thing I can let drop now is that kiDNApped will be released in audiobook format this spring from Audible.com, narrated by the talented Jeffrey Kafer, who also performed the Wired Kingdom audiobook version. Stay tuned to rickchesler.com over the next few months for some exciting new developments that I can’t mention just yet.
When you submitted Wired Kingdom, was Variance the first place you tried or had it been a long road that eventually led there?
Variance was the first publisher to which I submitted Wired Kingdom, but I did also query well known literary agents with it in the year or so leading up to the Variance sale. A few of them read some chapters, but in the end they all passed. When I realized that I would be able to sell the manuscript directly to a publisher, and for a decent advance, I decided to go that route alone without an agent. At some point, though, I would like to take on an agent in order to have someone else seeking new opportunities on my behalf. But when the Wired Kingdom deal was offered, even though I could have went back to agents with the offer in hand, I just didn't feel like delaying things any longer at that point.
So you've actually landed a publishing contract with a traditional publisher... I think only Ryne and Jeremy can say the same (though they did it in opposite fashion). How has that experience been? I think this will be an interesting contrast to us Indies. My first two novels were published through self publishing companies, one POD and one not... But I had to fork over money for that and, in the end, didn't think I was getting my money's worth so just decided to do it myself. What are the pros and cons of going the traditional route?
There are advantages and disadvantages to the traditional route. It was nice to be paid an advance when I signed the contract. It was nice to have talented cover artists and interior layout designers do a fantastic job of handling those aspects of production. It was nice to work with a great editor, all at no cost to me (or at least no up front cost - I think certain things are subtracted from royalties on the back end). But it wasn't so nice to end up waiting almost 2 years from the time the contract was signed until the book was actually published (that's why the second book, kiDNApped, was ready to go so quickly after Wired Kingdom came out - I had to kill all that time waiting by writing something new!). It also wasn't so nice to realize that things like price points are now beyond my control, decided by the publisher, or that I have sold my rights to that book, including ebooks, forever. So it's a tradeoff between less favorable terms overall but getting that advance and having people handle a lot of stuff for you, and not having all that support but having much more or possibly total control. I sold kiDNApped to a different small press, Chalet Publishers, for no advance, but also they only own the rights for 2 years and they still handled most aspects of production, although kiDNApped was a POD and not offset (mass market) print book. Basically, when I finish writing a book, I just try to get the best deal I can for it. I don't take sides on the indie vs. trad war. I just want the best possible opportunity I can get for each book, within a reasonable period of time from when it's finished.
Yeah, the waiting part would be tough. That's probably the thing I like the most about the Indie route is that you can put out whatever you want whenever you want. However, I think I would give anything to not have to worry about self-promotion. How active are you in promoting your books and how much does the publisher take on so that you can concentrate on writing?
I'm very active when it comes to self-promoting my books. My publishers also do some promotion, such as listing my books on their websites and blogs, hooking up occasional interviews and new opportunities, etc., qualifying me for International Thriller Writers membership, etc., but I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable depending on them for everything. Even if I were signed to a big 6 NYC publisher, I would continue to promote my novels the way I am doing now. If a publisher wants to do even more, then so much the better. But I will always do what I can do. Besides, I mostly enjoy it, anyway - interacting with readers and other writers, the publishing industry at large. Overall it's been a lot of fun, although there was definitely a fair amount of set up work up front. But with not much else to do while waiting for the first book to be published, it helped pass the time to establish my website and social network presence. Also, the larger your personal network as a writer is - the longer your reach - then essentially the less you depend on publishers to bring your work to its audience.
What inspired Wired Kingdom, or did it just come to you?
The concept for Wired Kingdom pretty much just came to me, but it did have some real-life inspiration from critter-cam type applications and the reality TV phenomenon in general. Once I had the premise that a whale tagged with a webcam would broadcast a murder at sea, from there it was just a matter of fleshing out the plot details (who's murdered, why, who's tasked with solving the crime, what happens then...)
So I started reading Wired Kingdom and I was instantly made even more jealous by the fact that you had thanks to give Steve Alten, another of my favorites! What has your interaction with Steve been like? Had you been a fan of his long before Wired Kingdom?
I had read Alten's MEG and really liked that. (I've since read and liked the meg sequels, too!) Then when I went to his website, I discovered that he offered what he called a 'writing coach' program where he works with aspiring authors to sharpen their work. I'm not sure if he still does this program or not, but I remember I found it under his Writing Tips section. I submitted an early chapter 1 of Wired Kingdom and was pretty surprised when he got back to me. Anyway, Steve was kind enough to give me some great feedback on the manuscript. He didn't mince words or let me down easy when he wanted to let me know that something wasn't working, and I thank him for that.
So I'm loving Wired Kingdom. The setting is different, the story is unique, and the flow just keeps the kindle screen smeared with my fingerprints! Can you talk about your female POV? What made you chose a female character, and what was writing through a woman's eyes like?
Thanks, Shawn, I'm glad you're enjoying Wired Kingdom so far!
I chose a female protagonist because they are less common than male protags in the action-thriller genre, and thought it might help my books to stand out a little in this crowded category. Also factoring in to that decision was that it emphasizes how the FBI at the beginning of the story doesn't believe they are dealing with a real crime. They think it's some kind of media hoax that they can expose with a little desk work and pavement pounding. They don't contract some special forces team to go get this whale, they assign Special Agent Tara Shores to what they think is a simple hoax verification. Naturally, that's not what the case turns out to be, and before long Agent Shores is in water way over her head, literally and figuratively. So there's an element of vulnerability in having a female character caught up in a situation she was not intended to be exposed to, as well as the fact that females do have different personality traits and thought processes than men, which leads me to the second part of your question...
What was writing through a woman's eyes like?
It was challenging, to be sure. I didn't want a guy in a girlsuit, I wanted a genuine female character, albeit one who is a highly trained FBI veteran, who would behave and think like a real woman, not a cartoon character. The character of Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs was somewhat of an inspiration in this regard, but I also read a couple of non-fiction books by real life female FBI agents who recounted their time in the agency and reflected on what it was like to be a woman in such a male dominated, macho culture.
So as I wrote this action-thriller (as well as kiDNApped, the next book in the series), the protagonist's actions had to be constantly tempered with and informed by the answers to questions like, "Would a female have the physical strength to do something like that?" "How would a woman respond to a question like that?" "When dealing with other women, is she acting appropriately?" etc., etc. On the whole, I just try to make sure that the character is serving the story--moving the plot forward while being rendered with sufficient depth.
I saw a really dumb movie the other night where the bad guys were (somehow) capturing different species of sharks and (somehow) attaching webcams to them and (somehow) releasing them in the bay. It was their version of a snuff Shark Week, streaming the sharks eating people over the Internet. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that your idea is getting out there... though I would much rather have watched WIRED KINGDOM! What are your thoughts on that? Do you think it would make a good movie? Which actors/actresses do you envision playing the roles?
Sounds like fun! What was the name of the movie and where did you see it? Anyway, I do think Wired Kingdom would make a great movie, but I really don't have any actors in mind. I'll just leave that up to the casting professionals!
The name of the movie was Shark Night. I know, dead giveaway, but I was in the mood to zone out! So where have you been on this planet? What oceans have you explored?
I may have even seen that one on SyFy, not sure. They have a lot of cheesy shark movies, like Spring Break Shark Attack, etc., but nothing that will ever top Sharktopus!
Anyway, I've been fortunate enough to have been scuba diving in many fantastic places around the world. Some of my favorites include the indescribably awesome coral reefs of Fiji in the South Pacific, the depths of the Blue Hole in Belize, the lava tubes of Hawaii, shipwrecks and sea-lions in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, and of course the mind-blowing kelp forests of California's Channel Islands. For those who'd like to see some of these places, I have a few videos I shot myself while diving, here on youtube. So I've been to various parts of the Pacific, the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. So much more to explore! As far as taking those experiences directly into my novels, Wired Kingdom is set in the California Channel Islands, while kiDNApped takes place throughout the Hawaiian Islands chain.
Wow, that's awesome! I've snorkeled in Bermuda, Jamaica, Cancun, and the Bahamas... but I've always been hesitant to try scuba diving (I'm terrified of sharks)! But I would love to some day. Do you think you would ever write a story that focuses on diving? Like Peter Benchley's The Deep or Clive Cussler's Night Probe or Vixen 03?
I wouldn't worry too much about sharks while scuba diving. It's people floundering around on the surface who present a tempting target! Down below you're at their level and they can see you for what you are--not food! Love Peter Benchely's The Deep as well as those Clive Cussler titles you mentioned--I grew up reading those and they are they kind of books that ultimately inspired me to become a writer. kiDNApped and Wired Kingdom both have prominent diving scenes--especially Wired Kingdom --so it really just depends on the plot if there would be even more diving than I already have. Then again, if I hear from fans that that's what they want more of, I'd be happy to oblige! In general, I like plots centered around the natural environment, especially the ocean, and so at least some of the time that will require scuba diving.
I don't know, I've seen Deep Blue Sea... Haha. What about cave diving, you ever done anything like Sanctum?
I like Deep Blue Sea! I've never done any extreme cave diving like in Sanctum, but I have done lots of fun cave and cavern scuba dives over the years. One of the best ones was a large underwater cave system about 50 feet down in Fiji, and I think I already mentioned the lava tubes of Hawaii--especially the ones on the Big Island. Really cool! Most recently, this past December my wife and I dove a freshwater cave in the Crystal River, near Tampa, Florida. Also, the cathedral-like caverns of the Blue Hole, Belize, with their giant hanging stalactites! In most of these caves there is still a little bit of visible light for most of the way through, and we're going through with a divemaster who knows the way. Exploring caves with branching tunnels where you can get lost, and with no direct access to the surface is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted without the proper technical training
Yeah, I like Deep Blue Sea, too. Own it, actually. My Uncle's nephew (haha, that would be me, wouldn't it?) - my Uncle's brother had something to do with creating one of the things they used for sound... some technology that allows the divers to talk back and forth. I love that movie because it breaks every movie stereotype when it comes to who lives and dies!
HAVE YOU EVER WRITTEN YOURSELF INTO A CORNER AND HAD TO CHANGE DIRECTION IN YOUR NOVEL? (Question from interview participant)
I have a loose outline before I start writing, so that gives me some direction. Most of the time I know what needs to happen in order to make it to the next 'stepping stone' of my outline, but on occasion I will decide part way through that what I've written for the last section isn't going to work with what's coming up, and will go back and change it. It's less a matter of being "trapped into a corner," though, and more like walking back to that last fork in the road and this time taking the right one instead of the left one. If worst comes to absolute worst and you don't know how to proceed, you should just jump ahead to the next section where you do know what will happen, and start writing that. Once I start writing a first draft (which means I've already got an outline and a back cover style description of the whole book, and usually a working title), I don't allow myself more than 1 or 2 days of being "stuck." It's game on once I start that first draft and I am going to get to the end.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE STORY OR PICTURE BOOK WHEN YOU WERE A KID? (Question from second interview participant)
I remember being into Where the Wild Things Are & James and the Giant Peach, among many others.
If you were to go down in history for writing a book that dealt with a predominant issue that changed the world to some degree, what subject would you write on?
I enjoy writing on environmental topics, so if I can be remembered in small small way for that, I'd be happy.
Have you discovered a niche with the Tara Shores novels that you plan to be in for a long time, or would you like to jump into some other genres at some point?
I do plan to continue the Tara Shores series, but I am also working on some other things. I doubt I will ever stray too far from the thriller / suspense / action-adventure genres though.
If you could write a historical fiction piece that is set in any place or time, where and when would it be? Any particular period fascinate you?
I think every period in history has unique lessons and interesting things going on, but I don't have any particular attachment to any one time or era.
So it's December 20th, you're John Cusack, you have a ticket onto the Ark. It closes its doors in three hours. With the coming cataclysm, you may not have WiFi for your Kindle... What books are you making sure you have with you through the apocalypse?
Survival how-to guides!
Lol. Everyone I ask that question to always seems to find a way to not answer it! Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time to be with us! It's been fun!